Many of these impoverished folks make foolish decisions with their money. In some cases it exhibits a lack of patience, in other cases their actions exhibit short-term thinking. Renting appliances and furniture is a prime example of this. The companies engaged in this business are disreputable and sleazy, they prey on the poor and take advantage of them. Often it would be better to save the money and buy the couch or washing machine outright...and when they fail to do this, they are condemned for a lack of prudence.
But this judgment is invalid because it is made from a secure standpoint. The financially secure judge the poor but they're projecting their own security into the mindset of the poor.[i]
It's easy to think strategically and make wise decisions when you have security. Also there are many opportunities to increase income with only a modicum of risk....but even that minimal factor is often one beyond what the poor can afford.
Someone who is financially secure can afford to take small risks wherein they might lose $500 or even a $1000 dollars. This allows them to make better and wiser purchases. Also, someone who is secure has a stable income and generally speaking doesn't have to worry about next week or next month.
The insecure often cannot afford to lose even a small amount of money. For many of these folks, losing $100 can be catastrophic and something as simple as a tire blowout can seriously derail their budget. This can often lead to a chain reaction, a bill gets paid late, and then in order to pay that one the following week...two more are late, and it goes on and on.
People in this situation get so frustrated, so beaten down, so defeated, it reaches a point where they throw their hands up in the air. Perhaps they've tried to save up for a television and after a year they give up. So when the tax return comes....they buy one. After all it's the only form of entertainment they can afford. I'll grant that many of the poor are not big readers but even those that are....public libraries are often difficult to get to (especially if you live in a rural area) and due to budget cuts, their hours have made them less and less accessible.
We've all heard about how easy it is to make money when you already have it and yet few realize how true this is. It's all about risk and security. I know several businessmen who would be very disappointed and personally devastated if a $10,000 business venture failed and they lost their money. But, they could weather it. Often its money they had available and though seeing the small number on paper hurts their eyes, in the end it doesn't affect them.
Security generates options and grants flexibility in decisions. It also grants intangible benefits like confidence.
Poverty generates fear. Middle Class status can also generate fear....a fear of losing what you've attained, but the poor live in fear of disaster and destitution.
An example. Recently we had some run-ins with our local school district. Our school district is in turmoil and they keep changing superintendents and principals. The responsibility for monitoring the home school programme keeps getting passed around. It's frustrating for us because just when we get used to dealing with someone, the whole situation changes. Many officials mean well but often engage in what might be described as overreach. Often they're trying to get information from us that goes beyond what we are legally required to provide. Pennsylvania is one of the more heavily regulated states. There are aggravations with this but the regulations also grant us protections. Though they require much, we have extensive documentation, signed letters etc., that grant what we're doing legitimate status. Some states that are less regulated and not necessarily 'more free' as much as the issues are simple left undefined. There are truancy issues and other overlapping legal obligations that sometimes come into play...and in those cases the families have a harder time legally justifying their actions.
Anyway, a zealous official was trying to insist that we fill out registration forms for the school. Legally we are not required to do this. Legally we send in a notarized affidavit accompanied with medical forms (we take an exemption) as well as course objectives for the upcoming year. It's really no big deal and the whole process takes us less than an hour. The biggest aggravation for us is that the nearest and most convenient notary is located about eight miles away.
I was uncomfortable filling out the form, because we've never done so before and the code is explicit regarding what is required. The official was insistent. I believe he had made an error regarding the status of our children listed in their computer. We were wondering why they were even listed as 'registered' in the computer? Was there some sort of fraud going on? Was our cash-strapped district 'claiming' homeschool kids in order to get the funding from the state? I have no idea.
Nevertheless I didn't want to fill them out because I was afraid it would establish a precedent and a later official might say...'Hey, your kids were registered before, now you need to fill out forms to un-register/withdraw them.'
Anyway it's a mess but it left me uneasy because the next step was going to mean some kind of semi-confrontational meeting which is something I very much wanted to avoid. Thus far it was all being conducted over the telephone.
It's all about security. You see if I have money, then I am emboldened. I can retain a lawyer and I can afford some of the associated costs in order to maintain my case.[ii]
But if you don't have the money, you're alone. What if things took a bad turn and I decided the situation was extreme and I wanted to remove my family to another location in order to protect us from a possible investigation coming from a social worker? That costs money too. Gas, a hotel, a meal on the road. For many a week out of town is not a great burden, but for the poor the costs associated with this are inconceivable.
No lawyer, no possibility of flight....a lack of security makes you afraid and vulnerable. You won't make the best choices. You have fewer options.
In the end I filled out the first page of the registration packet, only filling in the information that was already included in the affidavit I sent in. I also attached a letter explicitly proclaiming my protest and specifying what I was and was not doing in filling out that form.
They gave me no further trouble, but my situation is unique. I'm comfortable wading into officialdom. I'm not afraid of legal forms and terms. I'm comfortable venturing into these realms and arguing. I deal with similar issues at work when it comes to the building code, inspectors and liability issues. But not everyone is able to do this. In fact a lot of people who are fairly smart and educated are unable to do this, let alone those who are poor.
During the late 1990's the stock market seemed to be in a permanent state of advance. This was the era of the dot-com boom, the new economy being generated by the internet and the new markets opened up by the conclusion of the Cold War. It was also an era of easy credit which continued for almost another decade and ultimately led to the bursting of the housing bubble.
I know of one man who has contracted with me on numerous occasions who would get a credit card offer in the mail for no interest for say...six months. Most of the credit cards will allow for cash advances and he would use these to purchase shares in mutual funds. He'd let the money sit and grow for a few months. Mutual funds are generally secure, in the late 1990's they seemed virtually risk free. Then he'd sell the shares, take the money, pay off the credit card at 0% interest, close the account and pocket the profits. He borrowed money to make money. Anyone could do it...but, there was a risk. If something went wrong, if the stocks suddenly plunged, if he had been holding these stocks on 10 September 2001, then he might have incurred great losses and when the 0% credit term expired....the money might not have been there.
So what's my point? In his case, he's financially secure. Even if he lost $10,000 he could have written the check. He would have been unhappy but it wouldn't have ruined him. In the case of the poor, they would have never taken the risk. If it had gone wrong, they'd end up homeless. In fact if someone less secure had taken such a risk they would be rebuked for being reckless.
Now multiply this ten-fold, a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold and then you enter the realms of people like Mitt Romney. If you start to grasp these things you begin to see how inaccurate, uninformed, idiotic, dishonest, in fact immoral and offensive his comments were regarding the poor in the United States.
Are the rich so wise with their money? As a person who often is employed by the rather well-to-do I can assure you their money is often spent in a very foolish and wasteful manner.
As the standard of living increases, people begin to focus even more on appearances and trivialities they view as necessary.
Perhaps there's nothing wrong with spending $60,000 on a kitchen, but in no way is this a prudent use of money. The rich are just as susceptible to fads and brand names. The difference is they can afford to think about things that other people wouldn't even entertain. Wealthy people can afford to fuss over the wood-grain pattern in a cabinet, the sheen of a finish, pinstriping on a car, or whether they like the way their chair feels. The poor are happy to have cabinets that have working doors, they're happy to have paint on the walls, a car that runs and a chair to sit in.[iii]
Is it immoral for someone to want nice things? Is it immoral to demand near perfection when you've spent a great deal of money?
No, but all this points to heart issues. Money is security. Money is power. Money generates respect and a certain regard for one's self. You create in your mind an understanding of who you are, the standards you deserve, what you need, and what you're entitled to. This is the danger of money, the love of it, and how it plays out in our consumer and very fast-paced society.
Our society in particular generates discontent. We are barraged by people who try to convince us that we need things, that there's something wrong with us if we don't want the products they're trying to sell us. Our society, in fact our very economic model is built upon and dependent upon covetousness.
[i] Security is a concept often omitted from both economic and political thinking and yet I believe it to be fundamental to understanding why people behave as they do.
[ii] I know there are groups like HSLDA which provide legal services for homeschool families. This particular instance is only pointing to a larger point I'm trying to make. In terms of this particular issue, I would sooner turn to the ACLU before I would turn to HSLDA or the ACLJ.
[iii] I remember when we first moved into our present house. Our dining room table was plywood on sawhorses, we had a couple of chairs, but several family members sat on resin (plastic) garden chairs. I had a nice 5 gallon bucket which served me for many months. While doing this I worked for someone that would spend $100 to replace a doorbell system because they didn't like the way the 'chime' sounded or would spend hundreds on a knick-knack that would end up in a back bedroom collecting dust. That same money would have bought us a table and chairs. I'm in no way suggesting this person 'should' have bought us table and chairs. Don't misunderstand me. I'm simply reflecting on the differences regarding money and the attitude it generates.